Your first internship experience is a special one; it is the first application of concepts learned at school to real-world problems in the workplace. Some amount of nervousness is expected, especially when it comes to choosing the right internship opportunity. In this article, we will explore how to choose your first internship and how to maximize your returns.
When you are a freshman, the right choice of internship depends mainly on two things: Who is willing to give you a chance at a meaty project when you have almost no work experience? And what major are you considering?
The answer to the first question can be found in career fairs: talk to every employer, visit every booth, network as much as you can, find connections, make friends, and keep these connections active. Make a shortlist of which opportunities seem most significant and talk to sophomores who attended these internships last summer. Once you have a final shortlist, use the connections you’ve made at the career fairs and with prior interns to get your foot in the door.
Regarding the second question, your major has a lot to do with the kinds of internships that you look into. If you’re pursuing a STEM major, for example, look for companies that have been active in their fields for at least a few years—this allows you to engage with people who understand ever-evolving technology trends and will let you sink your teeth into meaningful problems. You should also look for employers who have multiple functions and business lines, as this will give you exposure to a wide variety of work, which helps you to learn what you like best.
When exploring internship opportunities, it’s also important that you learn if the companies you’re interested in hire freshmen. Some do, and some do not. Look for companies who actively hire freshmen and have an alignment with your expected major; these are going to be your best bets. Even a partial alignment works, because it allows you to get a variety of experiences. Even if you’re most interested in, say, a technology-related position, it’s important to know that most technology issues in the real world aren’t purely tech—there can be financial aspects, people aspects, or even legal aspects. So look for internships that go both wide and deep with experiences—and if you get to experience the company’s workplace culture too, then you may have hit the jackpot.
Internships are a little like dating: you approach them carefully, with maybe some nervousness but, mostly, joy. If all goes well, you can move to a committed relationship (such as a full-time job). If not, well, you’ve made some great memories before moving on to the next one.